If you were to look up the definition of “transparent,” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives three examples of the meaning of the word: free of pretense or deceit, easily detected, and readily understood. When applied to a law enforcement organization, it becomes clear that transparency must exist in order to accomplish what I believe is a key objective: establish and maintain the trust of the communities that we are sworn to protect and serve. Being a transparent organization is essential in building that trust and in our day-to-day operations.
The Board of Police Commissioners has begun efforts to make the LAPD more transparent. At the December 13, 2005 meeting, Commissioners unanimously adopted a new procedure regarding the release of information on Categorical Use of Force cases to the public. The new procedure, which began on January 1 of this year, allows for the Commission’s Inspector General to publicize, on the Department’s website, summaries of Categorical Use of Force incidents. Although the information publicized will include relevant facts surrounding the incidents, as well as the Police
Commission’s ruling on policy issues, no officers’ names will be released.
Mayor Villaraigosa endorsed this effort and applauded the Police Commission for this significant step that ensures that the public is fully informed on all Categorical Use of Force cases. The Los Angeles Police Protective League also supports this move, in part. While not in agreement that the information should be placed on the Department’s
website, the League agrees a balance has been struck by providing as much information as possible without revealing personal information about the involved officers or disclosing sensitive tactical maneuvers and procedures.
In short, this is a win-win situation for all, and a decision that I, too, fully support. As Police Commissioner Anthony Pacheco said when the action was approved, “This is a defining moment in transparency.”
Another issue being discussed by the Police Commission, and one that has caught the attention of the Federal Consent Decree Monitor and the media, is the issue of cameras in patrol cars. As one of the original recommendations of the Christopher Commission, this idea has been considered, studied, and debated since 1991. The Department even had a pilot program in the late 1990s. But because of budgetary constraints and
videotape storage issues, video cameras were not put into the Department’s fleet of black and whites.
With the ongoing challenges of analyzing traffic-stop data to determine the likelihood of racial profiling and advances in recording technology, digital video cameras in patrol vehicles are a viable and effective method of providing transparent documentation of incidents.
Digital video cameras in patrol cars are not something that police officers should fear but rather should welcome and praise, as this technology can resolve many of the issues that arise when an officer takes enforcement action. These would include the “he said, she said” scenarios, and issues that arise relating to use of appropriate force, especially when dealing with combative or uncooperative suspects. If officers are enforcing the law constitutionally, compassionately, and consistently, video cameras in patrol cars will serve as their strongest allies. The images provided by these cameras
would prove to be valuable tools when use of force issues are being scrutinized
and when fighting false complaints. A study done by the International Association of Chiefs of Police revealed that once a complainant was made aware that the traffic stop or contact was recorded, more than 50 percent of the time the complaint was withdrawn. These cameras will also provide stronger evidence in the debate over racial profiling.
The initial cost of outfitting patrol vehicles with digital video cameras and supporting infrastructure is estimated at $25 million. But the returns are far
more valuable. Based on conservative Department estimates, the cost savings and reduction in City liability costs as a direct result of fewer complaint investigations,
would help pay for the cameras in about six years. Add to that the increased public confidence in the Department’s commitment to transparency, and our ability to
provide more objective and credible criminal and administrative investigations, the expenditure would be well worth the initial investment.
As with the public release of Categorical Use of Force information, the Police Commission, the Police Protective League and I all strongly support the use of digital video cameras in patrol vehicles. Both of these measures will help the men and women of this Department do the job they are hired to do: protect and serve the people of this City in a transparent way, free from pretense or deceit, easily detected and readily understood.